Originally posted Jan 6, 2014. Video from June 20, 2018.
Most of us are all too familiar with the kinds of broken families we discussed in our last post. And as painful as this is in any situation, it seems even more shocking when we see such sin and pain among God’s people. I was still a teenager when I first experienced it: my father left our family of five, ultimately cheating on my mom and divorcing her. So how on earth does Satan convince saints to sin? Simple: he lies. As Christ told those who refused to believe in him: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44 NKJV; see our first post for Works Cited). Or as the brother of our Lord wrote, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (Jam 1:14). Satan, then, takes a God-given desire, distorts it through lies, and draws away souls from their Maker. Hosea points to four of these lies in the life of Gomer and Israel.
Lie #1: I’m only hurting myself. This is the first mistake many make when giving into temptation. Society teaches us sin is simply a matter of preference that doesn’t concern other people. Hosea, however, teaches us otherwise: “Bring charges against your mother, bring charges; For she is not My wife, nor am I her Husband! Let her put away her harlotries from her sight, And her adulteries from between her breasts” (Hos 2:2). God thus invites Gomer’s children to become plaintiffs in their mother’s trial. He goes on to list their interest in the case in verses 4-5: “I will not have mercy on her children, For they are the children of harlotry. For their mother has played the harlot; She who conceived them has behaved shamefully.” Her sin affects them, and so they too have more than a little cause for concern.
Life is not all about you. When you think it is, you’ve already begun to fall. So while sin is certainly a choice, it is a choice that controls you—no, that defines you and your relationship with others. Once you give in to sin, you have given up your ability to decide for yourself (Rom 6:16). You have also given up your ability to decide how your brethren will respond. So don’t be upset when they “bring charges” against you in love, because they know that your sin affects them, even if you’ve forgotten that (Jam 5:19-20; Gal 6:1-2).
Lie #2: The grass is always greener (I think you can fill in the rest). Okay, so it’s a cliche; but proverbs become cliches only because our lives so often attest to their sad truths. Gomer suffered from this delusion as well, saying, “I will go after my lovers, Who give me my bread and my water, My wool and my linen, My oil and my drink” (Hos 2:5). Israel thought that the good in her life was the result of her unfaithfulness, and so she redoubled her prostitution. God’s response was to give her what she wanted: he would “strip her naked And expose her, as in the day she was born, And make her like a wilderness, And set her like a dry land, And slay her with thirst” (2:3; see vv. 7-10). In essence, God says, “You want to get naked with your lovers? I’ll do the stripping! I’ll lay open your shame to those you’ve opened yourself to. But don’t think they’ll want you back after that! After all, no one trusts a cheater” (see ESVSB; NET).
Israel would have recognized in these words the public shame and punishment for adultery in the Ancient Near East (see Jer 13:22; Eze 16:35-43). The allure of sin makes us forget that, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights” (Jam 1:17). But the so-called “benefits” of sin—pleasure, friendship, freedom—are mere illusions, glimpses of God’s goodness that call us back to him in repentance (Acts 14:15-17; 17:30-31; Rom 2:4).
Lie #3: God just wants me to be happy. Any attempt at happiness in this life (much less the next!) is incomplete without God. God did not tell Israel that if harlotry brought them happiness to go for it. Instead, he says, “I will hedge up your way with thorns, And wall her in, So that she cannot find her paths. She will chase her lovers, But not overtake them; Yes, she will seek them, but not find them” (Hos 2:6-7). He wants Israel to be happy in him. Note that the wife’s lovers did not seek her out. Instead, it is she who took the initiative to pursue them (see Jer 2:23-24). But we don’t find happiness by seeking our own way; we find it by walking with God.
Israel understood this on some level, but failed to see its full significance: “I will go and return to my first husband, For then it was better for me than now” (Hos 2:7). Though Gomer eventually determines to go back to Hosea, even then she fails to see that her unhappiness was a result of her unfaithfulness, and that her husband was the only person who ever really cared for her (see Jer 2:2). There’s no remorse in her return; she’s just tired of being poor. Her idea of happiness is about having good things, rather than being good. She was sorry and she regretted her actions, but her sorrow was for the world, not for the One who made it (see 2Co 7:9-11).
Lie #4: But I’m not that bad! There are, of course, several versions of this lie. Sometimes it means comparing ourselves to others: I’m not as bad as so-and-so (2Co 10:12)—and sometimes it means comparing sin to sin: Well at least I didn’t do that (Jam 2:10-11)—but in each case we “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). In Hosea’s day, Israel believed that as long as they worshipped Yahweh, they could also worship Baal and live however they wanted morally. God, however, reminded them that you can’t compartmentalize covenant commitment: “I will also cause all her mirth to cease, Her feast days, Her New Moons, Her Sabbaths—All her appointed feasts. . . . I will punish her For the days of the Baals to which she burned incense” (Hos 2:11-12).
God has never wanted merely part of our lives. As Moses exhorted Israel, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deu 6:4-5, emphasis added). Knowing the Great I AM requires our complete rational, spiritual and physical devotion. Everything else falls short of what he deserves. As the churches of Christ, then, we can’t merely stake our claim to faithfulness on singing without instruments or weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper (though both are biblical: Col 3:16; Eph 5:18-20; Acts 2:42; 20:7), but must also root our worship in lives right with God. As Amos said in a similar context, “But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream” (5:24). Because on the Last Day we won’t be able to say, “Lord, at least we did better than they did.”
Buried within each of these lies is a lie not only about us, but about God. We cannot sin without grieving the Spirit (Eph 4:32), we cannot sin without without refusing our gratitude (1Th 5:16-18), we cannot sin without admitting our ignorance of the Holy One (1Pe 1:15), and because we sin, we cannot possibly save ourselves (Isa 59:1-2). Israel had been given every blessing a bride could hope for, but “‘She decked herself with her earrings and jewelry, And went after her lovers; But Me she forgot,’ says the LORD” (Hos 2:13). As the ESVSB points out, “Israel’s failure to ‘know’ the Lord and his provision, and the Lord’s plan to remedy this, is a key idea in the book (8, 20; 4:1, 6; 5:3, 4; 6:3; 7:9; 8:2; 11:3; 13:4, 5).” Both then and now, knowing God is the goal of his people, but it is not a cold, intellectual or even religious commitment. Instead it springs from the heart and is seen in devotion: the love of a bride for her groom.
Originally posted Dec 23, 2013. Video from June 13, 2018.
The modern family is in trouble. In our homes and neighborhoods we see the pain and suffering involved with child neglect, domestic abuse, absentee fathers, poverty, pornography, adultery, divorce, and “alternative lifestyles.” Family life is hard enough without the effects of these sins. It can be difficult to devote yourself to another person in marriage (Eph 5:22-27); it can be difficult to sacrifice daily to raise godly children (Eph 6:4); and it can be difficult keeping the family’s focus on the Lord (Jos 24:15; 1Co 7:32-35). The Book of Hosea is an inside look at just such a broken family, a family painfully distorted by sin. The children of Israel neglected to keep the law in love, to seek God in true worship, or to take care of the poor, and they ultimately turned from the faithfulness of the Holy One to the whoredom of Baal.
First, we see that sin still affects the saved. Yahweh’s first command to the prophet is shocking: “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD” (1:2 ESV; see our first post for Works Cited). Now, I don’t know about you, but if someone called me or someone I care about a whore, they would certainly get my attention. God’s purpose, however, is not to insult or inflame but to instruct. Isaiah walked naked and barefoot for three years (Isa 20:2-4), Ezekiel baked bread over burning dung (Eze 4:9-13), and Hosea married a known prostitute whom God then compared to his own bride. In each case, God sought to wake Israel up to the reality of their sin.
Jehovah had warned Israel of this possibility from the very beginning of their relationship. Before they entered Canaan God instructed Israel to, “tear down [Canaan’s] altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and . . . whore after their gods” (Exo 34:12-16). But Israel’s faithfulness failed. Hosea therefore casts Israel as a brazen harlot, pointing out that their problems were a result of their own unfaithfulness.
Secondly, sin begets sin. Because Gomer returned to prostitution, her children would reap the consequences. For an ancient Israelite, Jezreel was synonymous with bloodshed. This was the place Ahab and Jezebel murdered Naboth and later paid the price for their sin (1Ki 21; 2Ki 9-10). In the days of Hosea, though, the king of Israel (Jehu) “did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam” (2Ki 10:31) and therefore Hosea promises him the same punishment. Because of his sin, the destruction of his family would extend to “the whole kingdom of the house of Israel,” a fate that “the bow of Israel” could not withstand (Hos 1:4-5; see too ESVSB).
Note too that Gomer’s second and third children are conceived and born without any mention of Hosea (vv. 6, 8). They don’t know who their fathers are. This is made even more evident in the names God gives to them: No Mercy and Not My People. It is impossible to disconnect mercy and membership, forgiveness and family. So as verse 6 reads, “I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all.” Jehovah therefore threatens a terrible fate: “I am not your God” (Hos 1:9; see Lev 26:12).
And finally, sin brings loving discipline. Though Hosea emphasizes coming judgment, the Lord is still the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and remembers his promise to make their “children . . . like the sand of the sea and children of the living God” (Hos 1:10; see Gen 22:16-18; 13:16; 32:12). The prophet thus reminds Israel of her covenant through her ancestors: “In the place is not a geographical reference but a reference to the event when God and his people bonded at Sinai. The Lord will meet Israel at the same place he met with Israel before, i.e., under the same conditions. It is the place of repentance (cf. also Hos. 2:7, 16)” (ESVSB; see too Isa 62:4).
Both because of this restoration to God and to bring it about, Judah and Israel will once more “be gathered together” under “one head” (Hos 1:11). As with many prophecies, this one is fulfilled in three stages:
Let’s face it, though the church is the bride of Christ, we’re not the most devoted wife on the block. Christ, of course, “loved the church and gave himself up for her . . . that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-27). But at times, we have refused to turn from our unfaithfulness, accepting instead the ways of this world and therefore its consequences (see Rev 2:21). The truth of this is evident in Paul’s message to Corinth: “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2Co 11:2-3, emphasis added).
This depth of devotion often alludes us. We have tried to accept Christ but deny his people (Acts 2:36-41, 47; Eph 4:4-6). We have bore him illegitimate children by redefining what it means to be “born again” (John 3:3, 5; Tit 3:4-7; 1Pe 1:23). And we have trampled on his grace by turning back to the sin of our former lives (Heb 2:1-4; 10:29-31). Yet, in his love God stands calling, knocking and waiting for us to return in repentance, to heal our broken family and to be once more the bride of Christ (Mat 11:28-30; Rev 3:19-20).
Originally posted Dec 16, 2013
The Minor Prophets are some of the most difficult books of the Bible to read. But it is not because their message is hard to understand, it is just so hard to accept. As some of the disciples once told Christ: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it” (John 6:60 ESV)? Then, as now, those who come to the Lord must seek him through his word and prepare themselves to hear, since it is he alone who has “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). As one of Hosea’s contemporaries wrote, “Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David” (Isa 55:3).
Reading Hosea (or any other part of the Bible) therefore requires preparation on the part of the listener, especially when the message is one that will hurt before it heals. Such begins by understanding a bit about the world of the inspired writer and his first audience. Hosea’s ministry spanned thirty-three years, from about 755 B.C. to the fall of the northern kingdom in 722. The stability and wealth of the early eighth century led to rampant unfaithfulness in both worship and the home. So as a final warning to Israel, God instructed Hosea to marry a “wife of whoredom” (Hos 1:2), who would serve as a tragic illustration of Israel’s own unfaithfulness toward God.
Hosea, then, is written as a sharp and bitter satire, whose focus is “the exposure of human vice or folly” (ESVSB). The prophet therefore employs intentionally shocking language, vivid imagery and legal terms to emphasize God’s desire for justice and righteousness. Such an emphasis was especially relevant because of the primary form of Israel’s unfaithfulness: Baal worship. Several aspects of this are apparent in the book, “such as drunkenness, bestiality, human sacrifice, mutilations, and incest . . . but Hosea understands the strength of Baalism’s appeal to the sex drive by way of ritual prostitution” (ESVSB).
Hosea’s prophecies are soon fulfilled through “at least six incursions into Palestine and its neighbors by an unstoppable Assyrian army” (ESVSB). Even in the face of such judgment, however, Hosea (who shares a name with Joshua and Jesus—all of which mean “Salvation” or “Yahweh Saves”) shows the depth of God’s steadfast love for his people, a jealous love that tolerates no rivals. As Theodoret observed, “The reason that the God of all threatens punishment . . . is not to inflict it on those he threatens but to strike them with fear and lead them to repentance, and by ridding them of their wicked behavior extend to them salvation” (Commentary on Hosea, “Introduction”). Hosea, then, is the emotional and tragic plea of the Lord to his bride to return to him in true love and purity, and stands as an important figure by which to examine the church of our Lord today.
For a fantastic introduction to Hosea, check out the Read Scripture video on the book of Hosea produced by the Bible Project:
A quick note on sources: When I first prepared this material for our Sunday morning adult study in 2013, I began with The ESV Study Bible, The NET Bible, the Bible Knowledge Commentary, plus some rudimentary Hebrew studies (we’re talking basic) and then branched out as needed to fill in their gaps. Although Hosea is fairly heavy on textual and interpretation issues, I have summarized heavily in order to adapt this material for the blog. For those interested in going deeper, I have included the complete list of Works Cited below, which I will link back to each week for ease of use.
Fast forward five years and two congregations later, and the Lord has blessed me with another opportunity to plumb the depths of Hosea's words. So in this re-run of the series, you will see not only updated and reposted expositions of Hosea, but videos of each class as taught in the summer of 2018 with the Warner Robins Church of Christ.
All works from Bible Study with Accordance.